Story: In 2007, a group of Koreans travels to Afghanistan to volunteer helping the people there. However, their bus is stopped by the Taliban, and they are taken hostage. The Korean government had actually issued an entry ban for Afghanistan, but the Koreans still managed to get into the country via detours. The diplomat Jeong Jae-ho (Hwang Jung-min) is supposed to take care of this crisis, but he quickly learns that the Koreans are all from the same church. If the Taliban were to find out that they are missionaries, the situation could only get worse, so this piece of information is kept from the media. As soon as he arrives in Afghanistan, Jeong wants to negotiate with the president, because the Taliban demand that their imprisoned fighters are released and that the Korean soldiers retreat from Korea. For the Afghan president, the situation is not that simple. While it may be good for Korea if the Korean hostages are released, it does not help Afghanistan if the Taliban fighters are freed. So, Jeong does not make any progress in the negotiations with the president, which is why the NIS agent Park Dae-sik (Hyun Bin) is supposed to find a way to free the hostages. Initially, Jeong and Park are in each other's way, but over time, they realize that they can only make progress if they work together.
Review: "The Point Men" is a refreshingly different hostage drama. Of course, this is mainly due to the parched settings (the movie was shot in Jordan), but it's also due to the fact that the story is based on true events. For some reason, the year 2007 was changed to 2006, though. At the time, there were big discussions, just as there are in the movie, about whether you should negotiate with terrorists, because America's position on that was quite clear, and politically South Korea is still kind of dependent on the US. In addition, it had to be considered that the hostages were missionaries who had gone to a country that was banned from entering and also known for the Taliban spreading terror. Not that smart. "The Point Men" shows all those aspects, even though some are only briefly touched upon, and that's why this thriller drama is maybe a little bit more slow-paced than you might be used to. But that suits the story quite well.
Of course, the story took some liberties too. And so, there are also a few action sequences, for instance a small chase scene, which are quite well-done, but do not represent the movie's core. Instead, it's the tension you can feel lingering over everything. People set deadlines, desperately search for solutions, and make questionable decisions. Those who can still remember the events from the news and thus know what happens in the end will not be bored, though. The atmosphere female director Yim Soon-rye ("Whistle Blower") creates works very well, and so the thriller is still captivating even when there isn't all that much happening on screen. The sets make the movie stand out from similar thrillers, and in that respect it's almost a novelty in South Korean cinema, even though recently "Escape from Mogadishu" did that as well.
Since the movie is set in Afghanistan, there are also several international actors. Thankfully, they do a consistently good job. The days seem to be over when movie makers just chose the next best guy who was able to speak the language for such supporting roles. Even Hwang Jung-min ("Deliver Us From Evil") is sometimes allowed to speak English, and even though his pronunciation might not always be perfect, his acting does not suffer from it. That's not to be taken for granted. In general, he and Hyun Bin ("Confidential Assignment 2: International") manage to give the story a common theme which makes it easy to follow the events. The director probably tried to create a little buddy feeling between them too, but it does not really work. Without Hwang, however, the two roles would probably have been a lot duller.
As gripping as the movie might be most of the time, you can't help but notice that the story sometimes goes round in circles. Negotiations break up for political reasons, then they are resumed, only to later somehow peter out again. Interestingly enough, I even read that some people found the ending quite unspectacular. But how much would the story of "The Point Men" be allowed to deviate from reality? The filmmakers have obviously tried to rewrite as much as possible for the movie medium without things becoming absolutely implausible. How much more can you expect? However, it is a bit strange that towards the end, the script tries to forge a bridge to another hostage situation. Is there possibly supposed to be a sequel? For a movie which is based on a true story? That would be quite weird and therefore this aspect seems kind of out of place.
The images and locations are quite beautiful and the soundtrack works too. So technically, there is nothing to complain about. But despite the good acting performances and a comedic supporting role by Kang Ki-young ("Crazy Romance") as a translator, which isn't totally annoying for once, the characters generally turn out flatter than they should. While the story might be a bit too political for some viewers, at least you don't get countless lengthy meetings in conference rooms. In the end, I enjoyed the approach "The Point Men" took much more than if it had turned the story into a silly action flick. The movie didn't receive that much critical praise so far, but you get a well-done hostage drama with fresh locations and great images. In my book, this is clearly enough for a recommendation.